Help American Workers. Pass TPP.

Friday, September 16, 2016 - 6:00am

By Thomas J. Donohue and Michael R. Bloomberg 

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both said they will oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact between the U.S. and 11 nations negotiated by the Obama administration and signed in February. But their views shouldn’t matter much, because the issue should never get to the next president’s desk. Congressional consideration of the agreement has been delayed long enough. Congress should vote on the bill -- and pass it -- before the year is out.

Anti-trade sentiment has made it fashionable for candidates to oppose TPP. But while a vocal and energized faction of voters on the left and right advocate protectionist measures, most Americans -- including majorities in both parties and among independents -- believe more trade is good for the American economy. So do nearly all economists and a large majority of the business and agriculture communities.

Global trade opens up new markets to American businesses, creating new opportunities to grow. In fact, the U.S. actually runs a cumulative trade surplus in manufactured goods with our 20 trade agreement partners, and we’ve long run global trade surpluses for services and agricultural products. But you wouldn’t know that by listening to the presidential candidates.

Trade also lowers the cost of goods for U.S. consumers. Without trade, everything we buy -- from food to clothing to electronics -- would be dramatically more expensive. When was the last time you heard a candidate say you ought to pay more for groceries and underwear?

The U.S. will never again be the global capital for low-skill manufacturing, and attempting to reclaim that title by turning away from trade and erecting protectionist measures would be a fool’s errand. The 1950s-era economy is gone and never coming back -- more as a result of technology than trade.

Most of the manufacturing jobs lost over the past two decades have been automated out of existence, not lost to trade. As goods and services are increasingly purchased online, greater access to foreign markets is essential to American businesses, including our manufacturers, which increasingly depend on foreign markets to support jobs here at home. For instance, U.S. auto exports more than doubled between 2009 and 2014, topping 2 million cars and trucks for the first time in 2014. Shipments of “made in the USA” cars to China rose tenfold in that period. And without the growth in trade that the U.S. has experienced during that time, many more Americans -- in manufacturing and other industries -- would be out of work.

The challenge we face today is finding ways to create more high-wage jobs and to ensure that more Americans have the skills and education they need to qualify for them. Such jobs tend to be dependent on foreign markets for materials, labor and customers. Breaking down barriers to those markets, which TPP will do, is essential to America’s future in the global economy.

Of course, the overall benefits of trade are small comfort to those who feel the immediate pain of losing their jobs when a factory moves its operations overseas. There is more that elected officials can and should do to help such workers, but opposing TPP is not one of them. In fact, politicians who blame trade for sluggish economic growth are merely diverting attention from their own failure to deal with critical issues that are holding back businesses, including addressing the country’s antiquated infrastructure.

It’s imperative that the strong majority of voters who support expanded trade urge members of Congress to pass TPP this year -- and hold them accountable for the lost jobs that will result if they fail to do so. Walking away from TPP would give other nations -- particularly China -- a leg up in the competition for trade and the jobs it creates. In fact, despite what we hear from the campaign trail, it would be a huge gift to China that would cost American taxpayers in lost jobs, lost income and lost opportunity for many years to come. It would also weaken America’s ability to exert influence on matters of national security and geopolitics. 

America has always been strongest when we drive global change, rather than shrink from it, and seize opportunities to extend our economic reach. TPP presents an important test of whether that era of American leadership will continue.

Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP and three-term mayor of New York City. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.